Seriously, what is Paul Mason smoking here?

On Greece:

Greece, though an outlier, has always been a signifier, too: this is what happens when modern capitalism fails. For there are inept bureaucrats and corrupt elites everywhere: only the trillions of dollars created and pumped into their nations’ economies to avoid collapse shields them from the scrutiny they have received in Greece.

We face two years of electoral uncertainty in Europe, with the far left or the hard right now vying for power in Spain, France and the Netherlands. Some are proclaiming this “the end of neoliberalism”.

I’m not sure of that. All that’s certain is that Greece shows how it could end.

A politically created bureaucratic hell is what he calls neoliberal capitalism, is it?

40 thoughts on “Seriously, what is Paul Mason smoking here?”

  1. At least part of Greece’s problem is that all the people who went to dinner parties at the home of their equivalent of Paul Mason, and their equivalent of Paul Mason himself, thought taxes were an option.

    Greece is what happens when basic Southern European corruption and idleness are given free reign.

    Give it three months and this lot will be kicked out because they couldn’t deliver a free bike for every child. They haven’t got the money and that is that. One day even they will realise.

  2. The whole.Euro project was an exercise in wilful fantasising. Syria has a.slightly – only slightly – different fantasy, but fantasy it is. Greece has decided.it.will not leave the Euro. And the other Eurozone nations- meaning Germany – will now agree that it’s. Debts don’t need repaying, at least not by Greece
    So the other Eurozone nations, hit on the tails of QE, will now impose a haircut on bondholders, or the ECB will now buy mainly or only Greek bonds, or there’ll be some other even more astonishing debt mutualisation …and the Germans will pay…and their electorate will will be kept out of the loop…Because Syria says they will.

    Bollocks.

  3. bloke (not) in spain

    Interested believes in “basic Southern European corruption and idleness”
    Well, I’d give him the first half. But that’s your middle classes for you. But idleness? Try the young couple with two kids I’ve been trying to look after. She’s got three jobs & he’ll tackle anything I can put his way. They’re typically Spanish working class. Idleness isn’t an option in Spain with the country’s flimsy safety net. The Spaniard without a job is more likely tilling a corner of land for a few veggies than lounging around in front of daytime TV.
    You want idleness, best place to look’s the UK

  4. Mason’s really a dim bulb. He can do a piece to camera with lots of words that sound like he knows what he’s talking about, but he hasn’t a clue.

    He only gets the job because he’s a communist, and a few news organisations want communism.

  5. @BnIS

    We can all identify outliers, and sure, if your country is going down the tubes a certain amount of scrambling to keep one’s head above water is to be expected.

    And yep, loads of idlers in Britain, too – the basic human default position is probably to be idle if possible, it’s just that we have only recently starting making it possible, whereas in the southern parts it’s been endemic for years.

    Any country which clocks off for three hours for lunch has a problem with work.

    Not that I mind that – I’ve done a lot of hard yakka in my time but I’m fairly idle myself these days. I had a long lunch at The Porch House in Stow just the other day (highly recommended).

    It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s to be aspired to.

    What I’m against is being idle (and corrupt) and then blaming everyone else when your life turns to ratshit.

  6. Given his Trotskyite past, probably Woodbines. Whenever someone mentions meritocracy – the Blair clarion call – I become wary. To be fair, Mason writes for a target audience: primarily younger people without a pot to piss in. If he was on the Telegraph’s payroll the lad would doubtless take a different line. As Mason himself admits: in comparison to the old days my politics have become complicated. It’s what happens when time and a steady salary – accumulated personal wealth – tempers your outlook.

  7. Strangely enough I was discussing the root cause of Greece’s problem with a friend yesterday, though she probably didn’t realise it. She was telling me how she and her friend used to go to Greece on holiday twice a year to a little village in the middle of nowhere. Nice beach, couple of local bars, basic accommodation. She said that pre-euro she’d take £120 in spending money, and not spend it all, the food and drinks were so cheap. Once the euro came in, all the prices zoomed up, and she stopped going. Greece’s problem in a nutshell. An economy predicated on providing cheap holidays suddenly priced itself out of the market.

  8. >At least part of Greece’s problem is that all the people who went to dinner parties at the home of their equivalent of Paul Mason, and their equivalent of Paul Mason himself, thought taxes were an option.

    That in itself isn’t a big deal, as long as the government is sensible and only spends what is coming in. A low tax/low spend economy is a good idea in my book. The problem is rather that the Greek government’s spending bore no relation to its revenues. And the people kept voting for such a government.

    (This doesn’t just apply to Greece, of course.)

  9. A huge and mostly useless public sector, corrupt politicians and a middle-class for whom tax evasion is the national sport.

    Lots of clever people insisted (and still do) that this was a good match for Germany.

  10. Moving the conversation a little tangentially: you might be interested to know of an example of just how Richard Murphy works. He – and others such as Paul Mason – is very keen to present Greece as a battle between democracy and all-powerful-neoliberal-conspiracy. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite fit with the last three general elections in which the Greek public has quite knowingly doubled down on the parties that lead them into the Euro. So Richard – and others – are creating a narrative of those elections being fraudulently steered by Goldman Sachs (evil JEWISH neoliberals).

    So I suggest this is fantasy. I ask if he is seriously arguing that Goldman Sachs was able to do that for the previous elections but for this, with no apparent change in any methods or national system, it couldn’t do the same. He decides not to post that. So I write again calling him an intellectual coward. He posts that up and invites his followers to poke fun.

    I would suggest that a man who feels he needs to twist and misrepresent his own correspondence to present himself in a better light has declared himself an intellectual coward. Am I wrong?

  11. I’m not obsessed with you (I couldn’t obsess about you), I just find your posts harder to read with all those random full stops and capitals inserted.

  12. @Cal

    Sure, I’m all in favour of taxing and spending less, but you do actually need to pay/collect the taxes.

  13. Any country which clocks off for three hours for lunch has a problem with work.

    To be fair, the French aren’t particularly lazy in this regard. They see the 2 hour lunch as a break in their workday which allows them to stay in the office late (some of my colleagues work until 7pm) to complete their 8 hours (or whatever). The British approach is to minimise the number of hours spent away from home (or the office environment) and hence ram a sandwich down their necks in double-quick time. But in terms of hours actually worked in a day there’s probably not much in it.

    What lets the French down is they are hopelessly disorganised and waste an awful lot of time discussing things (because there are no guiding principles or managerial guidance, everything must be discussed at length), repeating work, or duplicating work. But in terms of actual desire to sit at the desk and produce something the French aren’t bad. I certainly wouldn’t mind a French engineer or two in a team of mine, so long as they weren’t subject to what passes for French management.

  14. Jim

    Your friend’s experiences tally perfectly with my own.

    My wife and I went to Greece regularly in the 1990s for two week holidays, always in very small Greek villages. Delightful people. Delightful food. Delightful place. Very cheap.

    The people worked at their own pace. The important thing always seem to be their self defined work/life balance. Children and family.

    Then they joined the euro.

    Within a few years everything doubled in price, then tripled, then quadrupled. Lots of shiny buildings appeared — even in quite small towns. Cafes and bars always seem to have self-important, overly well-dressed people having important meetings about something or another. Lots of brand-new shiny cars appeared – especially German ones. Public buildings and banks suddenly had marble floors and the same self-important people behind desks.

    But, strangely, nothing else changed. The people didn’t work any harder, faster. The only thing that seemed to have changed was the people had more money and they were more self-important.

    We gradually went less often, for shorter periods – two weeks became one. We spent less when we were there, ate out less, travelled less.

    In recent years we have stopped going completely as the price of things has become indistinguishable, particularly in the islands, from central London where I live. In fact, it’s often cheaper in central London.

  15. Stuck Record

    Make that three of us. I used to go to Kefalonia quite a lot. Nearly bought a place out there. Then the euro hit and everything became very expensive. Biggest mistake they ever made.

  16. A Greek island I used to visit with my brother used to employ, through the winter, more teachers than there were schoolchildren attending school on the island. When the big crash came though we did not sit and think “told you so”. Instead my brother noted that with their own currency and responsibility for paying their own way it was the Greeks’ own business. If they wanted a country based upon what the Brit considered laziness or waste, so what? As long as you pay your own bills.

    Cometh the Euro, however; cometh the blaming it on the Germans, the evil neoliberal Jewish bankers. Cometh the dilemma between trying austerity to fit in with a currency union but not fiscal union or telling everyone to get stuffed and doing your own thing.
    The Euro ‘ s faulting are not just macroeconomic; they are also social. It is and always was a disaster.

  17. The problem was the vote buying arranged by Pasok after the fall of the Colonels. the left believed that it was “their” turn and created lots of fake jobs for their people. Then New Democracy got into the same vote buying game. It was bad, but as long as it had to be paid for via Greek resources, it wasnt really a problem. The Euro (and to a lesser extent EMU) made it possible to increase the vote buying dramatically. Greece then had the worst of all worlds – too much spending and a hideous bureaucracy that made life difficult for business.

    Syriza want to go back to vote buying. Plus add extra burdens on business such as the higher minimum wage. Greece had been getting more business friendly in the last few years as some of the idiocy was swept away.

    The Europeans are unlikely to give way on anything (any concessions and this will buoy Syriza and thus Podemos etc). So, a bloody clash looms. I’m guessing a surprisingly fast default and Euro exit.

  18. >Sure, I’m all in favour of taxing and spending less, but you do actually need to pay/collect the taxes.

    But the same principle still applies. You adjust your spending to whatever comes in. You don’t complain that more money should be coming in. Maybe it should be. But it isn’t. So you adjust your spending to what is coming in.

    Most modern governments, however, are incapable of doing this. Look at the UK. Tax revenues dropped in a big way during the last recession, but the idea that we would adjust our spending accordingly was considered beyond the pale, so much so that the most that could be stomached was that we not raise our government spending as much as we normally do.

  19. The Ancients warned us that democracy would last only until the people realized they could vote themselves a raid on the treasury.

    What the Ancients didn’t know about was CREDIT. The U.S. treasury has not only been emptied, but also, the U.S. has borrowed another $18,000,000,000,000.

    Greece has raided their treasury, then borrowed all they could. They are arriving at the point where there will be no more. They will not be able to spend any more than they take in. This result was inevitable. Germany, Europe, et al, thought Greece would avoid the inevitable with the bailout. It seems now they were silly to think so.

  20. bloke (not) in spain

    Tim N’s already half rebutted “Any country which clocks off for three hours for lunch has a problem with work.” etc.
    To add:
    Some people really need to get their heads round foreign is foreign. They knock off at two because when I drove into afternoon Granada city couple of Augusts ago, the car was showing an outside temperature of 45C. Like stepping out into an oven. If it was London, the BBC would have been hysterically reporting it as a weather-bomb. It’s just Granada. Try Sevilla.
    I’ve had trouble adjusting to the UK because around 5 o’clock I’m expecting to go shopping. I’m used to businesses answering phones at 7pm. Spanish start early. Siesta. Work late.
    And Spain only really hauled itself out of feudalism a generation ago. History of Spain’s a story of the created wealth being sucked up by the Dons. The peóns countered by doing the least they could get away with & stealing likewise The Spain I wandered about in in the late 60’s was a third world country outside the cities. The average national wage was a shilling an hour when the UK’s was more like a pound. But don’t get the idea Miguel’s a lazy tosser. His own patch of ground, his goats & his chickens was where his effort went. If it’s anything like where I’ve been living, that patch of ground’s been hacked out of a mountainside, by hand. It’s not England’s gentle pastures.
    Problem’s been, as fast as Spain’s middle classes have grown they’ve acquired the vices of the aristos. Corruption’s endemic. The Spanish worker’s worked very hard. We’ve highways,streets, pavements, parks, all sorts of marvelous public works makes the UK look like a shabby dump. Done with borrowed money & much of it diverted into middle class pockets as it went past.
    Reason I’m not askance to Podemos. If this place is going to be sorted out, it needs a shake out. A capitalist solution will inevitably still keep the thieves on the top of the heap. Maybe Podemos is far enough to the left to do some serious culling whilst maybe staying vaguely honest. The debt? Sorry, i don’t share your sympathies. Spain’s debt’s been run up by its middle classes. Borrowed from your middle classes. Poor people don’t get lent money. So the wealthy lose their wealth. Tough.

  21. “The Europeans are unlikely to give way on anything”

    I disagree. There will be noises in public, but in private they will do whatever it takes. The Project is simply too important for them, workable or not, insane or not.

    My bet is something complicated and long-term (10+ years down the line) with the cost falling on Northern European countries, principally Germany, and some on us via some sneaky underhand manoeuvre which the Left will gladly accede to.

  22. Tim:

    As far as I can tell, “neoliberal” is a word with no real meaning, only used as a marker to signify that you don’t like what you’re bashing and feel no need to pay it any heed. Much the way “fascist” was used as a slur 20 years ago.

  23. Ted S,
    you’re right the usage here doesn’t illuminate anything and Mason is guilty of setting up a bogey man. That is a common usage. But the term still has meaning. The strange thing is that if Mason was going to be diligent (perhaps in his bbc incarnation?) he’d have to acknowledge the neo-liberal checklist wasn’t followed by Greece or the Troika.

    Also would say it’s replaced monetarism as the bogie man label of choice for this century.

  24. Rob

    I agree – there is no ‘Plan B’ – even a scenario that I have postulated which is that another Country (Holland/Finland) might leave the Euro rather than Greece looks like being avoided by a messy compromise which consists of kicking the can down the road for what seems like the hundredth time in the last decade…

    My guess is bondholders will be forced to take yet another haircut in return for some future considerations – and Syriza will be ‘bought off’ through some judicious funnelling of funds from the Structural expenditure…..

  25. I visited Greece about 5 years ago and was astounded how expensive the country was, especially as even then they were (allegedly) in the grip of a severe downturn. One character I was speaking to in broken German whilst enjoying a smoking break from the beach did remark that the UK was ‘glucklich’ to have kept Sterling (could save Brown when he is tried for treason) and that the Euro ‘war eine katastrophe’ Friends of mine in Slovakia, Cyprus, Malta and Estonia tell me similar tales of huge price hikes and profiteering following conversion to the Euro…..

  26. b(n)is, well said. Rural Italy (Lazio) is still a lot like that. One (older) couple I know there lived well (until recently) off 10 Euros a week growing vegetables and raising rabbits on half a hectare. Live in a nice house they built with their family. Run a little Fiat. Local economy is barter of course. They and their village are struggling now because the latest bunch of crooks in Rome have socked every householder with several hundred euros a year in property taxes. Families had to cut back on the wood they stay warm with through the winter.
    Meanwhile the Italian economy has had zero growth since Euro entry.
    The EU has turned into a machine that actively harms the poor. The sooner it’s deep-sixed, the better.

  27. Friends of mine in Slovakia, Cyprus, Malta and Estonia tell me similar tales of huge price hikes and profiteering following conversion to the Euro…..

    Similar stories from Lithuania now.

  28. Tim N

    I am surprised those ex Comecon countries (with the possible exception of Estonia) opted for it – I note the Poles continue to postpone accession and seem to be markedly better off as a result…

  29. Rob

    If the Europeans give way, this should lead to a surge of support for the crazies in the rest of Europe. Buying off Syriza now means having to do the same for Podemos in Spain in December. The potential cost to the german taxpayer goes through the roof and this cannot be permitted within the “project”. Kicking the can down the road is about not spooking the German taxpayer. The logical result of allowing the crazies to run the South is that the Germans end up paying hundreds of billions.

    In fact the Germans should have considered giving Samaras more room to do some fiscal stuff – since the Greek economy had reformed a bit – their ranking in the World Bank ease of doing business stuff has improved

    http://www.doingbusiness.org/Custom-Query/greece

  30. (cliché alert) The Die has been cast.

    The only question now is whether someone leaves the euro from the bottom or from the top.

  31. “A politically created bureaucratic hell is what he calls neoliberal capitalism, is it?”

    Are you going to defend actually-existing “capitalism”, or are you going to allow socialists to point out that actually-existing “socialism” wasn’t actually socialist?

  32. “Are you going to defend actually-existing “capitalism”, or are you going to allow socialists to point out that actually-existing “socialism” wasn’t actually socialist?”

    Capitalism in its broadest sense it may be, in that people are allowed to own shit. Neoliberal capitalism it ain’t though.

  33. abacab has it.

    The Germans are as likely to run as of today as the Greeks. There being no project without the Germans, however, the Dutch, Belgians and Austrians will push the Greeks and the Iberian nations. They might ‘feel’ more inclined to Keep Italy on board though.

  34. There’s a few “truths” that need challenging here.

    1) As beautifully nailed by B(N)IS, Southern Europeans are not as lazy as many think (Cyprus being my “specialism”). Actually, there’s a great deal of very hard work being done by a great many. Meanwhile, Germany works the fewest hours of all (and not all German companies are BMW. At least one is Siemens).

    2) Sadly, corruption is not just for foreigners, as a cursory glance at the UK news would tell you. Certainly, Cyprus has been damaged by the relatively corrupt EU. Any local will be able to point you to where and to whom the entry-sweeteners have gone.

    3) I’m not sure how many tears we should weep for Germany. The system they insisted on creating was inherently and obviously flawed, so tough. More to the point, the EZ has been run for the benefit of Germany since it’s inception, in terms of interest rates and so forth. The entirely undeserved bonus thus derived has had a negative effect elsewhere, and some of the bonus may need to be recalled.

    4) It won’t just be German taxpayers paying for this. Tough anyway, I’m afraid.

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